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MU Chancellor Responds to Dowd Bennett Report

April 15th, 2014

Story Contact: Christian Basi, 573-882-4430, BasiC@missouri.edu

As you know from my previous communications, the University of Missouri Board of Curators retained outside counsel to examine how our University responded to a former student’s allegation of a sexual assault, information which came to light, unfortunately, after her passing.  The St. Louis-area law firm of Dowd Bennett conducted a lengthy and thorough examination of the issue and presented its findings to the Board of Curators last Friday. I have now had time to thoroughly review the report, and I accept the findings and acknowledge that we have a responsibility as a university to ensure that we are stronger in the future. 

The report concludes that, though there was no intentional mishandling of the allegation, the University did not follow proper Title IX guidelines in reporting the alleged assault to our campus Tile IX coordinator.  Title IX guidelines were established by the Office of Civil Rights to advise agencies receiving federal funding how to protect against gender discrimination.  Furthermore, the Dowd Bennett report concluded that we clearly had not done enough to educate our staff on legal responsibilities as it relates to Title IX compliance.

I thank President Wolfe and the Board of Curators for providing the time, resources and transparency to look into this matter.  These issues are of the utmost importance on a college campus, and we take them very seriously. The safety, security and health of our students are our most important priorities.

I again express my deepest sympathy to Ms. Courey’s friends, teammates and family. Although nothing will bring her back, we can move forward and honor her memory by making sure that MU is accountable and responsible. Following is a statement of where we are today concerning our plans to move forward in doing our very best to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again on this campus:

  • The Columbia Police Department continues to investigate the matter, and we will provide any and all cooperation they seek.
  • As you know, President Wolfe directed all four UM campuses to conduct a comprehensive review of all sexual assault and mental health resources available to students, staff and faculty and then to re-educate our communities about those resources. In addition, each campus was tasked with reviewing all policies, procedures and training as it relates to sexual assault and mental health. We have completed the first phase of this task, a comprehensive inventory of all available resources, and we communicated with every member of campus last week to remind them of those resources. We look forward to seeing additional results and recommendations from the campus task force in the coming weeks. 
  • Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Alden also created a sub-task force solely to examine how our Department of Athletics handles student incidents and concerns, a group that includes an independent prosecutor, our campus sexual assault coordinator and the associate dean of the University’s Law School.
  • Already, we have identified areas for improvement in our sexual assault reporting policies and procedures, and we hope to implement them in the coming months. We must then educate our faculty and staff across all departments on those procedures and their responsibilities to our community.
  • President Wolfe issued Executive Order 40 last week to supplement the University’s nondiscrimination policies and make clear that every employee (unless they are health care providers, counselors, lawyers, and have a legal obligation to maintain confidentiality) is required to report sexual harassment perpetrated against students to the Title IX Coordinator or the Title IX Deputy Coordinator, and we have communicated this to the entire campus community.
  • We also are examining our Office of Student Conduct and how we address cases involving sexual assault, and we may, ultimately, create an independent committee with special training to specifically handle these cases.
  • We are working to engage a respected firm specializing in risk management in this area.
  • Finally, not unlike our peer institutions around the country, we must continue to examine our policies as they relate to alcohol and our enforcement of those policies. Missouri is not immune to the damaging consequences when alcohol and our young people mix.

Here is what I know: I know that we must refine our policies and procedures as they relate to the handling of criminal allegations and investigations, particularly those involving sexual assault. I know that we must improve the coordination between law enforcement, our Title IX Coordinator and the Office of Student Conduct. I know that we must earn back any trust or confidence lost through our actions or lack thereof. I also know, that even one case of sexual assault, domestic violence or of an unanswered mental health concern is one too many. Our students and their parents; our faculty and staff; our alumni and community neighbors all deserve a safe and secure campus environment. This is really “job one” since a safe campus is required for learning and discovery to take place.

We strongly espouse our values of Respect, Responsibility, Discovery and Excellence, but, as our values statement indicates, they are “mere words until we integrate them as values.” We must insist that we respect one another’s safety, voices and beliefs, and we must hold ourselves and each other accountable for our actions. I believe that we are working toward those goals.

Since joining the Mizzou family ten weeks ago, I have met many wonderful and dedicated professionals and thousands of inspiring young men and women who are here for a singular purpose. I am the chancellor, but I am also a professor, a husband, a father of two and a grandfather of three. I take my responsibilities in all of my roles with the utmost seriousness, and I am committed to ensuring that we are a stronger community moving forward. We owe it to Sasha, her family and to all those entrusted to us.

As we make progress in our commitment to making Missouri stronger, I will keep you abreast of our progress. I ask that you continue to do your part to make our community safe.

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